Wait, Picasso wasn't even born when Velázquez, Vermeer and Rembrandt were having their heyday. Art history majors might have to suspend belief, but this time traveling vignette of a 17th century collector eyeballing the surrealist's Nu couché et homme jouant de la guitare illustrates the wicked sense of humor of Spanish artist Cristóbal Toral.
Toral, who has been exhibiting in the United States since the late '60s, is making his Texas debut at Art of the World Gallery in Houston with more than 40 objects in "The Permanent Voyage." The artist has another piece in the exhibit, a take on 17th century Flemish Baroque painter David Teniers the Younger's The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Gallery in Brussels.
"In the archduke d'après, the art collection of the archduke becomes a modern art collection which depicts a list of recognizable paintings of some of the masters of [the] 20th century," writes Toral, in his email to us with translation assistance by the gallerists. "I find particularly amusing having a character from the 17th century taking pleasure from his collection of modern art. I consider this après a sort of tribute to both modern and classic art and how they are intimately connected."
Toral has another piece, more somber in tome, a landscape inspired by Dutch Golden Age painter Salomon van Ruysdael. He takes what should be a peaceful and idyllic landscape and transforms it into a narrative about those suffering from the effects of war and bombing.
The themes of travel, dislocation, immigration and refugees continue in several of the pieces. While travel can be both positive (vacations, visiting loved ones) and negative (fleeing a war-torn country), viewers will impart their own personal experiences when interpreting the works.
"I am obsessed with travel, bags and the suitcases that follow people wherever they go," writes Toral. "The oldest form of human civilization is nomadism, and I truly believe humans are a migratory species by nature.
"Thanks to the technology more people are traveling than ever before, but unfortunately those travels are not only motivated for leisure. Often these travels are now caused by economic situations, wars and political conflicts."
Toral, who was born in Spain in 1940, has come to believe that humans have a basic need and desire to travel. "As an artist, I became witness to my own journeys, hence my obsession about the concept of travel. My viewers easily identify with my works as they all have their own kinds of travel experiences," writes Toral.
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In addition to the oil paintings, works on view in "The Permanent Voyage" include bronze sculptures, works on paper, assemblages and watercolors. Toral believes that watercolor is one of the most difficult painting techniques. "Throughout the history of art, only a few painters have been able to master it. Van Gogh, who was truly obsessed with the technique, once said that there was 'something diabolical about the execution of a watercolor,'" writes Toral.
In spite of the serious subject matter, the prolific Toral himself remains positive and upbeat. The artist is constantly reinventing himself in his works, which often include large-scale installations. "Artists should look for inspiration in life. You can find everything in life you want," writes Toral. "From the most surprising things to the most abstract or absurd, our ultimate aim should be to create art in the truest and purest way."
"The Permanent Voyage" is on view through May 19 at Art of the World Gallery, 2201 Westheimer, 713-526-1201, artoftheworldgallery.com, free.